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Different weight-loss paths carry locals on life-changing journeys

Sun., July 28, 2013, midnight

People who overcome obesity are people who’ve decided to change not just their weight, but their lives.

They commit not to a diet, but to a lifetime of exercise and attentiveness to food, said Dr. H. Kennedy Cathcart, of Columbia Medical Associates in Spokane. They tend to have stable home lives and satisfying work. They maintain a big-picture view: Even if the scale disappoints for months in a row, they sustain their efforts.

Five people profiled today are people who have changed – or are changing – their lives. Residents of the Inland Northwest ages 17 to 64, they’ve lost between 60 and 170 pounds. They all look different now. They all live differently now, too.

It hasn’t been easy for any of them. Obesity is a disease that’s difficult to overcome, “and anyone who tells you it isn’t a disease is lying,” said Cathcart, who specializes in endocrinology and metabolism. His patients include people who want to lose large percentages of their weight.

For many patients, Cathcart said, overcoming frustration is the hardest part.

Losing a lot of weight takes a lot of time. He advises patients to lose 10 percent to 12 percent of their starting weight each year – so, without surgery or medication, weight that took five years to gain might take eight to 10 years to lose. That produces what looks like slowing progress: 10 percent a year translates to fewer and fewer pounds lost. Contrary to expectations, Cathcart added, humans lose weight in a stair-step fashion: seven pounds the first month, zero the second, two the third.

And the human body, grown accustomed to its size, will fight “tooth and nail” to keep extra weight, Cathcart said. When we try to drop pounds quickly, our bodies react as if we’re starving. Metabolism slows. We feel sluggish. Our skin feels dry. Our muscles don’t feel right. That’s one reason slow weight loss usually works better, Cathcart said.

Those who lose a lot of weight may be surprised by some of the side effects. Major weight loss may lead to compliments, but, at home, a “saggy body” in the mirror can be disappointing. Newfound attractiveness might bring on unwanted attention. Cathcart suggests that some of his patients start seeing a mental health professional.

Cathcart emphasized that he views a patient who loses 10 percent of his or her weight as a success.

Losing just 7 percent to 10 percent of your starting weight yields 85 percent to 90 percent of the potential health benefits, Cathcart said, leading to a “huge effect” on problems such as high blood pressure, poor heart health and risky cholesterol and glucose levels.

“Our society always thinks people should all look like the people on the cover of People magazine,” he said. “Well, remember those people are paid to look that way. If they spent eight hours in a gym, that’s because that’s their job.”

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